Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Back... to See Ahead

As I sat clearing out my camera's memory card, in order to make space for new pictures,
I couldn't help but notice this one taken last year right after Christmas


My daughter
My mother
Myself

three generations of women
traveling together
and headed to a single destination

three generations of women
in different stages of life
and riding with

different positions
different postures
different perspectives

My daughter, the youngest, sitting in back... looking down
Me in front...looking back, and
My mother, the older and (perhaps) wiser generation, right in the middle... looking straight ahead

Life has so many

stages...
phases...

and at some point we must consciously decide which outlook we will take

This year God has helped me learn to appreciate them all because

When I looked down...

at my surroundings
the kids
or in His Word

He taught me about becoming a Mary or a Martha
how to take a bow,
stay under His wing, and
what to do when Jesus sleeps

Then He allowed me to look ahead...

to learn how to navigate an obstacle course and bring my nest to the light

and finally in looking back...

He provided a light bulb moment, while reminding me of
the beauty and pain found in crunching leaves

I now see that He has been using these

different positions
different postures
different perspectives

to teach me the same exact lesson...
again and again!

A lesson in seeing Him no matter where I am in life

AND...

trusting that since

He is faithful
He is with me (and in me)

that in Him, I will win

every time...

PERIOD.

So as I stand at the end of this stage

I am filled with gratitude and grace

finally willing
to embrace each phase

knowing that He will continue to

teach me
guide me
show me

the proper time to

look down...
look back...
look ahead...

(sharing this today)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Aftermath

It must have happened sometime between midnight and 3am...
My feet got cold so I moved in closer

When he felt me shivering he pulled me in, and asked "what's wrong?"

"It's..
so...
cold"

I mumbled, still half asleep

"Well here, put these on..."
he said pulling off his socks and handing them to me

and I

didn't realize
didn't remember

until later when I fully woke and wondered...

How did I end up in his socks?

And then the faded memory became clearer...

We've celebrated the birth of Christ and what
His presence
His present

really means...

how God unrobed
became a man and died
so that we might be clothed!

He said
"Here, put this on"
"Wear my garment"
"I'm here now, I'll hold you close and protect you from this cold world"

And then we wake to find that the entire family has also
been affected
been changed

and that a new perspective has been gained...

from the child who once stayed indoors

who now heads out to glory in a new day...

to the highly active, "never-sit-down" child 
who comes inside to find a quiet place to worship...

He's caused a change...
and maybe it happened sometime between midnight and 3am

because I woke this morning clothed...

and thanking God for
His presence
His presents

and the realization that this is more than just

Christmas aftermath

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Take a Bow

It was the day of the Christmas musical and the Kindergarten class was up first...

I smiled when I saw my four students had been grouped together and placed center stage

"She did that for me"...
I stated out loud

"She did that so I could get them all in one picture"

I knew that she remembered they had all been

my students...
my babies...

and now my students
were her students

And when they started to sing
I smiled
because I could see them all

and I thought that she had given the best gift by grouping them all together like that

I thought that she had made my day...

until God (not willing to be outdone)
gave more

when as they finished the first song selection, the one that I had called my "Cuddle Bug"
stopped and took a bow

The other three looked at him and smiled
then appeared to look out to us in the audience

as we sat grouped together too

his mother
my mother
with me in the middle

then after the second song... he bowed again
the third song... he bowed
the grand finale... he bowed

and gave us all a good laugh while providing yet another lesson in gratitude and grace

This is what the season is all about

bowing in humility
and appreciation

for the best gift that has already been given

And so since the work is complete

all there is left to do
is sing the song...

and take a bow

(not because we are so great, but because we are so grateful!)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Difference Between Him and Us


We ask...
 
"Who am I?"
and spend our lifetime figuring it out
 

He says...

"I am Who"
and spends our lifetime proving it


Merry Christmas
from our family to yours!

Holiday Love... Let Your Light Shine

Christmas is less than 24 hours away

and while others are

frantic
anxious
busy

trying to gather those few last minute Christmas gifts, we're at peace in celebrating that...

"Jesus is the Reason for the Season"

Here's a recap of the top 20 countdown for simple, stress-free gifting...

20. Give something festive
19. Give something of a shared interest
18. Give to a stranger
17. Give something that can become a tradition
16. Give something inspirational
15. Give something from a child
14. Give the gift of your talents
13. Give something for the entire family
12. Give something for an unborn child
11. Give your favorite thing
10. Give something to create a memory
 9.  Give something sweet
 8.  Give something fun
 7.  Give something sentimental
 6.  Give something useful
 5.  Give something handmade
 4.  Give of your time 

3. Give Something Personalized

 Any parent knows that children are always asking for things and that
Christmas is the one time of year when we especially try to meet their requests

But those requests are not always tangible.  So what simple, stress-free
solution do I have for ensuring that everyone gets what they want?

Personalized Gift Tubes!!
I set out repurposed paper towel tubes for children to decorate during our studio time...
the children had no idea how their tubes would be used!

My hubby's tube is filled with sweet, sentimental things that I love about him...
(along with those chocolate covered almonds I've had stashed away)

My daughter's tube is filled with things that I know she would love to have like...
(30 min extra computer time on the weekend)

My son's tube is filled with things that I know he would love to do like...
(stay up an extra 30 minutes on a school night)

2. Give in Secret

 Matthew 6:3-4

"When you give... do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing"

1. Give From Your Heart

And finally, the best gift I've found to give someone this Holiday Season is absolutely free...


It's the gift of Christ
the Gospel
the glorious message

that Jesus was
born to die

so that we could be
born to live

and we give that gift by allowing our lives to be given back

to Him
to others


Because the best gift to give someone this Season is the gift of...
Letting your Light shine!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Love... When Your Refrigerator Dies 2 Days Before Christmas

God is good...
Life is good...

and just when you

think you have things figured out
think you've learned enough to share with someone else

life will remind you that...

"You don't know nothing, kid"

Last night I sang in a Christmas concert

gave it my all and
poured myself out before Him...

which is probably why

this morning I woke to find my freezer leaking
and spoiling all of the groceries that I'd just purchased the day before

But God is good...
Life is good...

because that's when I was able to see that

my list was upside down
priorities mixed up

and that

I didn't know as much as I thought I did

And THEN...

when I came here to add more onto our gifting list

I realized that my list literally was upside down because

since we are counting down to Christmas
our stress-free gifting ideas list should also be a COUNTDOWN

"But hey, what do I know?"

So here is the list as I think it should now appear...

20. Give something festive
19. Give something of a shared interest
18. Give to a stranger
17. Give something that can become a tradition
16. Give something inspirational
15. Give something from a child
14. Give the gift of your talents
13. Give something for the entire family
12. Give something for an unborn child
11. Give your favorite thing
10. Give something to create a memory
 9.  Give something sweet
 8.  Give something fun
 7.  Give something sentimental

6. Give Something Useful

 Giving something useful can be as easy as having a meal delivered,
collecting canned goods to share, or giving a pair of socks to a child in need


5. Give Something Handmade

 Working with the children at
"A Place for Little Hands"
has taught me the value of a handmade gift



and a handmade gift that is also edible?
My absolute favorite!




These Christmas cupcakes decorated by the kids make the sweetest gift!

4. Give of your Time

There are so many ways to give of your time...

You can volunteer, serve, support a cause, visit someone who is sick,
sit with someone in need, talk to someone who needs a friend,
or even take a moment to smile at the people
you come in contact with on a daily basis... 

(Thanks, Jam!) 


When I saw Sherri Shepherd's book, "Permission Slips", 
I knew immediately who I wanted to gift it to...

I purchased two copies
and wrapped hers in fancy ribbon
(with an invite to lunch in January)

so that we can discuss the first chapter of the book! 

Now we have an "excuse" to get together each month for our monthly sisterly bonding...
because after all it's our literary responsibility, right?

Christmas countdown... 2 days!

More ways to give... 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Love... The Secret to Good Gift Giving

With only several days 'til Christmas we're sharing 20 tips for simple, stress-free gift giving
So far we have...
1.  Give something festive
2.  Give something of a shared interest
3.  Give to a stranger
4.  Give something that can become a tradition
5.  Give something inspirational
6.  Give something from a child
7.  Give the gift of your talents
8.  Give something for the entire family
9.  Give something for an unborn child
10. Give your favorite thing
11. Give something to create a memory
12. Give something sweet
13. Give something fun

14. Give Something Sentimental
Holiday time is as good a time as any to show sentiment by telling someone...
"Thank You"

My mother started creating handmade cards in 1991
as "The Original Greeting Card"

and almost 23 years later,

I have found her unique creations to be the gift that keeps on giving!

(now to just convince her to open a shop...)

These four cards were created to be given as a boxed set gift for a friend who loves giving cards...
Her gift?  A gift to give to someone else!

"I'm Thinking of You"

This art was originally created as an "I See More" Crayon Melting Activity
and has been displayed in our Children's art studio for over a year now. 
As I was walking past it one day, I looked up and once again... saw more! 

This along with an attached note from the heart would be the perfect gift
to let my special family member know that I was thinking of them


Want to make your gift sentimental?  Add a personalized note!

"I Appreciate You"

Finally, my good friend over at "Different Kinds of Happy" is such a fantastic
gift giver that I could have created an entire post just from the gifts she has
given me over the years!  My favorites have been the sentimental notes she's gifted
in appreciation for when her children attended my child care program.

I've learned that the secret to simple, stress-free gift giving is knowing the recipient, and
knowing how to speak their "love language".  Well this girl definitely knows my love
language, and she also knows that it almost always includes some form of chocolate!! 

Here are a few of my favorite gifts that I've received from her... 


Free Housecleaning Services



The "Mint" Jar
Mint gum, chocolate mints, and peppermints with a handwritten
note thanking my family for our involve-"mint" in her children's lives


and...

a box filled with enough goodies for my entire family to make

Ice Cream Sundaes

Ice Cream Sundae Kit (photo credit: momsneedtoknow.com )

What are your favorite sentimental gifts to give and/or receive?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Love... Simple Gifts to Give at Christmas

Money tight?
No time to shop?
Realize that Christmas is less than two weeks away?

No worries!

Here are a few tips for simple, stress-free gift giving to help you along the way...

1.  Give something festive
2.  Give something of a shared interest
3.  Give to a stranger
4.  Give something that can become a tradition
5.  Give something inspirational
6.  Give something from a child
7.  Give the gift of your talents
8.  Give something for the entire family
9.  Give something for an unborn child
10. Give your favorite thing
11. Give something to create a memory

12. Give Something Sweet

The Holiday Season should be less about receiving things...
and more about giving love


What promotes love more than family togetherness?
What promotes family togetherness more than food? 

So if you wanna give the perfect gift...
you can never go wrong with something that's sweet and fresh out of the oven!

13. Give Something Fun


 My work with children has taught me to focus on process vs. product by acknowledging the overall  experience of the child.  Which is why I LOVE the sensory baths experience that Crystal Underwood creates for her children over at "Growing a Jeweled Rose".  Oh, how I wish I would have found this site when my children were younger!!  She has so many good ideas!

glowing bath water Outer Space bath
But wait, baths are not just for kids... Oh, no!  It's nice to create a relaxing bath experience for the much deserving adult in your life too!!  Head on over to Angie at "Echoes of Laughter" to find other gift giving ideas that are simple and stress-free.

So don't just give a any gift this Holiday... give something fun and create an experience!

More ways to give...   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Love... Receiving- The Other Side of Giving

I want to see "The Lion King" Musical...

which I realized this morning as I sat inching along in traffic
when I looked up and noticed a huge sign that reminded...

through January 12th only

I thought about how nice it would be to take my little ones
to see and experience

what I have heard is an amazing show

11.  Give Something to Create a Memory

...is number 11 on our top 20 tips for simple, stress-free gift giving

and I thought about how nice it would be to share the memory of this spectacular musical with them

"Oh well", I thought glancing back up at the sign

while looking for a sign...
or an idea...
or a provision...

(and smiling once I got one)

It read...

"Now on stage... at The Pantages Theatre!

and my mind drifted back to

the Pantages Theatre
three years ago
where we saw

"The Color Purple" featuring Fantasia

My mother had called me three weeks prior,
to inform me that my dad was purchasing tickets and asking if I wanted to go

Yes I wanted to go!

They were all going...

my dad
my mom
my aunt
my uncle

and I wanted to go too

So I called my hubby and asked him,
(but he had already made plans for that weekend)

special plans
surprise plans
anniversary plans

for the two of us
and I didn't want to miss out on that!

And since I simply could not be in two places at the same time
I had to let it go...

Then the day after we returned from our weekend excursion,
I called my mom to find out about the show and she said,

"Fantasia didn't show up, so we're going next week instead"

and until that moment

I could hardly believe that it was possible
I didn't even realize that it was possible

to get both of the things that I wanted
by surrendering one and embracing the other...

being grateful for the other...

And I knew for sure when I heard my dad in the background saying,
"Tell her she can have my ticket because now that she's available, I don't have to go"

Since I had let it go, it had come back to me

My mother, me and my aunt...we made it!

My mother later told me that when she informed my aunt
I would be joining them instead of my dad, she said,

"God must really love Tondra
because He always works things out for her"

and I had to smile because I knew that she was right

In fact I have been on the receiving end of the gift many times
and I have finally matured enough to know that

God loves me
(and is still loving me)

even when things don't work out my way!

Which is why I don't worry...

because I know

that even if Jan.12 comes and goes with no musical number in our plans
my children and I will still one day

meet
see
experience

the real
the true
the only

"Lion King"

What do you hope to see and experience this Holiday Season?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Holiday Love... Favorite Things To Give

We're keeping the Holiday gifting stress-free this year, with these simple tips...

1.  Give something festive
2.  Give something of a shared interest
3.  Give to a stranger
4.  Give something that can become a tradition
5.  Give something inspirational
6.  Give something from a child
7.  Give the gift of your talents

8.  Give Something for the Entire Family

You can't go wrong with a pizza kit... 
Gather ingredients, place in a basket, wrap, and you've
given something the entire family can make and enjoy together!




9.  Give Something for an Unborn Child

When gift giving this season, don't forget the little ones who haven't arrived yet
Mom-to-be can begin reading to her little one while in utero
and the books can be enjoyed for many years to come

What a great way to start introducing language and literacy!


10. Give Your Favorite Thing

I introduced a "favorite things" gift exchange for last year's office
Holiday Party and it was so much fun, everyone voted to do it again! 

It's super simple and only requires three steps...

Set a purchasing limit- (ours was $10)
and purchase something that is a "favorite"

Present to the group letting them know why item was selected

Each person pick two items to take home

It's so simple and fun... bring two items, leave with two items!



Items may be identical, or show some variation...



My inspiration for this amazing favorite things party idea?...
Erin @ The Sunny Side Up Blog!



So, what are your favorite things to give?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holiday Love... It's Gift Giving Time

Christmas Day is quickly approaching and we are committed to
finding and sharing tips for simple, stress-free holiday gift giving

We started with...

1.  Give something festive
2.  Give something of a shared interest
3.  Give to a stranger
4.  Give something that can become a tradition

5. Give Something Inspirational

Like a good book...
Nick Vujicis's "Unstoppable"

A good album...

New Album CONTAGIOUS
"Contagious" by Terron Brooks 

 or an inspirational movie like...
  
the 2000 release "Pay It Forward"
featuring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment

 Poster of Pay It Forward

This year, I have been embracing my inner artist so I decided to use water colors to paint over one of my favorite new quotes.  I tied a ribbon to it, and will hand deliver it to that special someone this Christmas Season... and Voila!  It doesn't get much easier than that! 

Like I've said before...

"When you use what you have
to do what you love,
that my friends,
is true art"

-Tondra Denise

  
6. Give Something from a Child

One of the little artists who frequents our Children's Art Studio asked to make something for her mom and my mouth dropped in awe when I saw what she was working on...

Bible verses
(from a 7-yr.old)

about
"obeying your parents"

and
"doing whatever your hands find to do"


So we framed her work
put a pretty red ribbon on it
to give to her mom for Christmas 

And when her mom saw it?

Her mouth dropped in awe too,
causing me to realize that you can't go wrong
when giving something that is from the heart of a child!



7. Give the Gift of your Talents

I've been singing and songwriting since I was 8 years old, but it actually took my 11-yr. old son to remind me that those talents are actually gifts

When I was asked to sing for our annual church youth dinner, I declined

"Nobody wants to hear me"
"I'm not a youth... I am a mother of youth"
"Let someone else have a chance"

Excuses...

Then a few days later when I was asked again he said,

"C'mon mom, I'll sing with you if you want me to"

But the truth of the matter is that I didn't need him to come on stage with me because

I actually do have
something to say
something to share

with other young men and women striving to live for God

So I will give the gift of my talents back to encourage anyone who will listen

Excuses be gone...

It's gift giving time!


Catch a snippet of the song here...
video

I will give the gift of my talents...

What gifts will you give this Holiday Season?